There is nothing radical in expecting the major challenger in the 2019 presidential contest to come up with a manifesto or declaration that is emancipatory in essence. Unfortunately, the two leading candidates so far – Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar – do not think highly of this. Even more unfortunately, the average Nigerian also does not insist on pinning them down to it. Instead of doing so, they are on binary voyages of Buhari is good/Atiku is bad or Buhari is bad/Atiku is good. Such simplistic rigidities do not exist. Would it happen that the newer faces in presidential politics in Nigeria – Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, Hon Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim – would fill this gap? That is the topic for the third and last in this series which began with the piece titled “Might President Buhari Have Bitten More Than Chewable?” Meanwhile, this is about candidate Atiku Abubakar.
Unlike candidate Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, there are no great expectations from and about Atiku Abubakar. Rather, his candidature attracts deep seated reservations in spite of his being a more liberal person on matters of diversity and difference. It is possible that those who have narrated him largely as a very corrupt person have done incredible damage to his image. He is thus an evidence of how narratives produce what we end up calling the reality. Not to worry. Meaning is not static and no one has one image throughout his or her life. Thus it is the same Atiku who came third in 2015 who now came first in 2018 just because the dynamics had changed. We can also exemplify with President Buhari. In 1985, his overthrow was a welcome development across Nigeria. However, by 2015, he was the candidate who could beat an incumbent. So, meaning changes with time and space.
The dynamics have worked out that Atiku who came third in 2015 has now come first in 2018 but without the image changing fundamentally at the popular level. The assumption has been that the former Vice-President would come up with a game changing narrative of Nigeria in the campaigns as to not only undo whatever doubts people entertain about him in relation to presidential power but also fire the imagination of the average Nigerian as to decide the election by acclamation. The question is whether that has happened or is it too early to expect it to have happened? No one would say that has happened at the moment because there are still not those phrases, metaphors and aphorisms from Atiku’s campaign.
This is not to say that President Buhari is offering any. He too is running an uninspiring campaign. But he hasn’t got the image baggage that the PDP presidential candidate has. Somehow, the image of a president who is not personally corrupt has not been completely ruptured even though he has been narrated to use a deodorant and an insecticide in dealing with similar cases of corruption. That notwithstanding, he can afford to run an unimaginative campaign relative to a challenger with a contested image. How might an inspiring campaign look like for a challenger?
That may itself be such an unintelligent question to ask with millions of Nigerians whose only skills is pushing along a Keke NAPEP completely outside the logic of the traffic control system; with Nigeria home to such a very high number of maternal mortality rates; with everyone running away from what the nation’s university as well as health system can offer; with Nigeria a theatre of violence in every small corner and so on and so forth. In other words, the country is an embarrassment, even by the African standard. And there is really room for someone with an acute sense of the key deformities defining contemporary Nigeria. And that acute sense or awareness should be obvious from the person’s language because language is what gives us access to meaning.
Contrary to the emphasis on issue-based campaign in Nigeria, there are no issues different from the language used to frame them. It is the language that actually constitutes the reality. For instance, candidate Atiku says the trouble with Nigeria is that it is too centralized in Abuja. So, he comes up with the narrative of restructuring Nigeria within the first six months of being in power. President Buhari says no, the trouble with Nigeria is excessive corruption and which he plans to handle by redirecting the anti-corruption war in the event of his re-election. All the two candidates are talking of one and same reality called Nigeria. Yet, each of the narratives imply its own prescription, with implications for re-constituted Nigeria, depending on which of them wins the election. That is why it is said that language use or narratives or discourses produce the reality we talk about and words/reality are no different things. As such, the metaphors, aphorisms and witticism become the codes by which the one who would be exceptional in office can be determined, not the ‘issues’ in themselves.
To further illustrate, Atiku’s discourse of Nigeria is a country that is not working. That is what the slogan of “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again” is all about. On the surface, that’s a sharp narrative because it implies a prescription of how to make Nigeria work. But what might Nigeria working again mean? Has Nigeria ever stopped working for those who made it big in the past one decade? And how did Nigeria stop working? Different answers will greet the question, depending on who is speaking. An IMF/World Bank ideologue will answer it differently from a worker who was retrenched between 1986 and 2017. So, the question as to how and when Nigeria stopped working does not have one answer outside the dynamics of power. Should all those who have suffered retrenchment since 1986 form a political party today and win the election in 2019, their answer to the question would be to abrogate Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) by which they suffered the fate they suffered.
So, when candidate Atiku Abubakar says his point of departure in terms of business model for Nigeria is to remove government from having a hand in business, he is only indicating his ideological preference rather than making an innocent statement or providing anything called correct answer to the question of how and when Nigeria stopped working. If he wins the election and proceeds to implement SAP or whatever name it is called now, it would not be because that’s the correct thing to do but because he is powerful enough to do so just as the Retrenched People’s Party, (RPP) would abrogate the same SAP if they were to be in power.
Seen as such, the case for new clichés, metaphors and aphorisms is a very strong one. They embody the future that is possible, the alternative that Nigerians are waiting for and the reasons why a candidate Atiku Abubakar should or should not be voted into power at this point in time. A challenger needs more than a 63 page document of facts, figures and models that do not, individually and collectively, add up to a known grand vision which offers something for everyone.